In the July 29 edition of the Messenger, in the article “Mandated child safety reports down during pandemic,” the Minnesota Department of Human Services was mistakenly referred to as the Department of Human Resources. The Department of Human Services was the only organization referenced and any reference to a Department of Human Resources was made in error. The Messenger apologizes and regrets this mistake.
Stay-at-home orders, school closures, limited access to public resources, all of these safety measures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to an environment of increased isolation since March of this year. While stressful for the whole community, this isolation poses a particular risk for younger individuals, as mandated reporters of child maltreatment have had less contact with kids in the pandemic environment. The county and state Departments of Human Services provided data on what child maltreatment reports have looked like in the previous months, and the state highlighted some measures that are being taken to address this problem.
Beth Crook and Susanne Lelwica, respectively director and assistant director of the Mille Lacs County Community and Veteran Services, presented the Messenger with a number of local data points regarding the state of child protective services amid pandemic.
In Mille Lacs County, intakes, which are reports of child maltreatment that have been received, have totalled 259 since March of this year. In the same time period in 2019, there were 317 intakes, a decrease of about 18%.
In addition to total intakes, the period since March has seen 29 family investigations. As Crook explained, family investigations include reports of child maltreatment that allege substantial child endangerment or sexual abuse. In the same period in 2019, there were 27 Family Investigations. Lelwica noted that there was not a substantial difference between these two periods.
Family assessment responses, which Crook explained are lower-risk reports not involving substantial child endangerment, sexual abuse or serious danger, totaled 18 for Mille Lacs County during the pandemic period. In 2019, this period saw 27 family assessment responses, a decrease of about 33.3%.
When reached for comment, the Minnesota Department of Human Services stated that most reports of child maltreatment come from mandated reporters (approximately 80% in 2019), and they know children have not been seeing those mandated reporters, either at school or through routine medical care. Since the pandemic began, the department has seen a 40% decline in the weekly number of child maltreatment reports statewide.
The department indicated they are deeply concerned about the impact COVID-19 has on children and families within the state, especially as the pandemic, and the measures being taken to address it, create stressful conditions for many families. The department cites social isolation, unemployment and economic stressors, as well as the general strain posed by the physical risks associated with this pandemic as risks associated with increased rates of maltreatment. The department states it is working with counties and tribes to support them in doing outreach to families already known to the child welfare system. Additionally, the State is working to support families in addressing economic pressures they are facing as a result of COVID-19.
Per Gov. Walz Executive Order 20-12, “Preserving Access to Human Services Programs During the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency,” the commissioner of the Department of Human Services has been granted authority to make some modifications to the response to child protective reports that keeps child safety at the forefront and allows for some limited use of virtual visits for alleged victims of maltreatment based on the risk and safety needs of the case, the department stated. The department also noted the granting of a waiver by the federal agency overseeing foster care and by the commissioner to federal and state requirements for monthly in-person contacts with children in foster care, allowing for video conferencing instead.
Data indicates that on a state and local level, child maltreatment reports have seen a drop since the pandemic again.
The State department, however, has indicated virtual measures being taken and changes being made, and locally, while numbers are down, cases are still being screened.
Concerns of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 continue to circulate, nationwide and globally. When assessing that impact, the welfare of the youngest in the state should not be overlooked.